Former Vice President Joe Biden took aim at a fellow 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful during a Las Vegas campaign appearance on Saturday, as he criticized Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan and rejected the idea that “more radical” candidates have a stronger appeal with young voters.
Most of the statements occurred after a member of the audience at a state Democratic fundraiser asked Biden how he planned to appeal to young people who “want radical, revolutionary change” in areas such as health care, corporate greed and climate change.
Some of the younger members of the audience interjected, saying “we’re on board” as the crowd applauded.
Biden said he did not mean to criticize anyone, but the idea that young people want radical change is false.
“I see no evidence of that. There’s no data to sustain it,” Biden said.
Biden said he communicates regularly with young people as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and “the vast majority want rational policy.” He said he polls as well with young people as any other candidate.
He called millennials the “best educated, least prejudiced” generation, noting that it has been thrust into caring about politics by President Donald Trump’s rise and other recent events, much as he was in the late 1960s with the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
“There is the myth that they want something radically different,” Biden said. “They understand the Constitution. They understand that you have to reach some kind of consensus.”
He continued: “They’re looking for somebody who in fact can articulate what they need, and they’re not — and this is not a hit on Bernie, my word — but this is not a generation of socialists. They are concerned that we are turning the system over to corporate America. But the way to solidarity is to make (corporations) pay their fair share.”
Biden also criticized Sanders’ Medicare for All plan during a lengthy response to a question on lowering the national debt. The first part of his answer dealt with repealing the GOP’s tax cuts on the wealthy before he pivoted to the importance of not increasing the debt through Medicare for All.
“The thing I admire about Bernie is he’s telling the truth about his plan,” Biden said. “He requires an additional — I think it’s 5.5 percent — withholding tax from your paycheck.”
He then asked from the stage if that was the correct number so that he didn’t “get in trouble with Bernie.” He said it could be up to 7 percent needed to pay for Sanders’ Medicare for All plan.
“Instead of raising taxes on middle class people, the way to deal with it is have a plan to get it done quicker, easier, faster and equally as good and provide the same health care in fact for $750 billion (for Biden’s plan) rather than a total of some trillion (for Sanders’ plan),” Biden said.
At another point during the afternoon event, Biden said Sanders’ plan would take four years to implement.
Sanders’ campaign responds
Peter Koltak, Sanders’ senior adviser for Nevada, said Saturday that “it’s disheartening to see Joe Biden continue to spread misinformation” about the senator’s plan, “especially while Nevadans continue to pay exorbitant amounts in high premiums and deductibles just to get the health care they need.”
Koltak also rejected Biden’s claims about young voters.
“Poll after poll, Bernie beats other Democratic candidates in receiving support from young voters, because they know exactly what is at stake and they know Bernie is the best person to deliver, whether that is canceling student debt, Medicare for All or improving education in America,” Koltak said.
The candidates’ remarks come at the end of a week in which the early front-runners drew clear lines in the sand on health care.
On Monday, Biden shared his plan to essentially maintain and strengthen the Affordable Care Act, which he said on Saturday would immediately insure 97 percent of Americans at a fraction of the cost of Medicare for All.
On Wednesday, Sanders delivered a speech both reaffirming his commitment to the Medicare for All plan and redefining it as other candidates have used the term in different ways, such as a Medicare expansion that also allows for a private option. Sanders made it clear that he believes private insurance no longer has a real place in America.
In all, Biden spent several hours Saturday discussing his various plans and meeting with people during two Las Vegas events. He began the day with several dozen of his campaign’s volunteers at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 396, where the volunteers began calling Nevada Democrats to rally support for Biden. He then appeared as the keynote speaker for the state party’s Local Brews and National Views quarterly fundraiser.
At both events, Biden addressed recent chants at a Trump rally that targeted Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., as well as what he said were racist statements by the president toward Omar and three other congresswomen of color.
“We’re in a battle for the soul of America,” Biden said, adding that Trump is “a lot more (former Alabama Gov. and segregationist) George Wallace than George Washington.”
He said Trump’s statements are part of a designed effort in which the president is trying to convince his base that their individual problems can be blamed on specific groups, such as minorities.
In a statement, the Republican National Committee said Biden would “have a tough time explaining the failed foreign policy and high unemployment rates from the previous administration” to Nevadans, whom Trump has delivered “thousands of new jobs, deregulation and historic tax cuts.”
At both events Saturday, Biden stressed the importance of Nevada to his national plan, telling both audiences they would be seeing a lot of him over the next year as he worked to “earn their votes.”
“I’ve got to win this caucus in order to be in the position to win the nomination in the general election,” he said.
Biden said Trump’s term has damaged the country, but the damage can be repaired. Eight years, however, “could change the nature of who we are.”
His speeches also touched on his plans to offer child care tax credits for families making less than $100,000, free community college and more forgiving student loans.
Most of Saturday’s attendees were either Biden volunteers or contributors to the state party.
Joe Woods of Las Vegas said his daughter brought him to the afternoon event. He supports Biden, saying the former vice president has pragmatic plans that Woods believes can be accomplished.
“He wants to return to the righteous path, but he’s also talking about true facts,” Woods said.